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Werribee Cemetery,
Cemetery Road (corner Railway Avenue),
Werribee

Citation

Wyndham City Libraries, “Werribee Cemetery,
Cemetery Road (corner Railway Avenue),
Werribee,” Wyndham History, accessed July 14, 2020, http://www.wyndhamhistory.net.au/items/show/1022.
Description

A large cemetery part devoted by monuments and part to a lawn cemetery

Source

City of Wyndham Heritage Study 1997

Description

A large cemetery part devoted by monuments and part to a lawn cemetery

Title

Werribee Cemetery,
Cemetery Road (corner Railway Avenue),
Werribee

Subject

Burial grounds - Werribee (Vic.), Darbyshire, George Christian, Leake, William, Kelly, Patrick, Heath, Richard, Wilson, Andrew, Baker, John, Beamish, Francis Thomas, Nolan, Patrick J., Rogers, James, Dee, Jeremiah, McNamara, Michael, Wyndham Public Cemetery, Armstrong, Elliot,

Creator

Wyndham City Libraries

Source

City of Wyndham Heritage Study 1997

Publisher

Context Pty Ltd

Date

1997

Contributor

Dr Carlotta Kellaway

Format

text

Language

eng

Type

Text

Werribee Cemetery is a large cemetery, part devoted to monuments and part to a lawn cemetery.  Extensive areas are devoted to the memorials to Italian settlers as well as many memorials relating to earlier families.

The early layout appears to have been changed by the introduction of a new road system into the cemetery.  An avenue of coppiced sugar gums (?) runs through the site, and appears to be part of an older layout.  Near the entrance there is a group of interesting trees including a bunya bunya and cypress and a brick caretakers hut.  Close by are older graves with well-known local names such as Missen, Ball and Gardner.

To the Werribee community, the cemetery is a place of great interest, from the earliest graves through to the more recent Italian memorials which reflect migration into Werribee.  There once was a children’s cemetery and pauper’s area near the caretakers hut.

The early history of the Werribee Cemetery is associated with the development of the Wyndham (now Werribee) township in the early 1860s after the establishment of the Wyndham District Road Board in 862 and the creation of Wyndham Shire in March 1864.  Like other rural cemeteries opened in the decade after the gold era, it illustrates the hardships faced by farming families.  Such country cemeteries, according to “Cemeteries : our heritage” edited by Celestina Sagazio, contain “reminders of men, women and children who perished under harsh conditions”.

A Cemetery Reserve at Wyndham was gazetted on 10 October 1864, some seven months after the creation of Wyndham Shire.  The reserve covered 13 acres in Crown Allotment 25 and was located on the north side of the Geelong and Melbourne railway line.  The site is shown earlier on a January 1863 Lands Department map, and is marked on a later 1860s Geological Survey map with other township landmarks including the railway station, police paddock, pound and Werribee Park.

The history of the cemetery in its early years from 1865 to 1881 is recorded in the Wyndham Cemetery Trustees Minute Book No. 1, a copy of which is held by the Wyndham City Library.  Trustees were appointed in 1865 and were: G. C. Darbyshire, William Leake, Patrick Kelly, Richard Heath, Andrew Wilson and John Baker.  Another prominent local resident, Francis Beamish, became a Cemetery Trustee in October 1877.  These trustees represented the major district denominations – Church of England, Catholic, Presbyterian and Wesleyan Methodist.  Perhaps because of the preponderance of Anglicans in the district, the Church of England had three representatives compared to the single Trustee from the other denominations.

From an early date, the Cemetery Reserve was fenced with ‘acacia fences’ and post-and-rail fences to guard against invading stock, and there were timber entrance gates.  However, discussions about the cemetery’s layout, the position of pathways and the marking of the boundaries of the denominational compartments continued into the early 1870s.  Cemetery plantings began in the late 1860s, the Chirnside’s donating 200 trees in June 1877 and more in 1878 and 1880.  The need for such plantings was associated with the cemetery’s important location, occupying “a very conspicuous position to travellers by railway…”.

In February 1875 it was decided to build a caretaker’s cottage.   The cottage was to be erected on the left side of the entrance gates, facing the railway.  It was to be constructed of weatherboard with a corrugated iron roof, and would include a kitchen and sitting room.  In July 1876, a plan prepared by Patrick J. Nolan, the Shire Engineer was approved.  Tenders were called and in September James Rodgers’ tender was accepted.  The cottage was ready for occupation by 8 November 1876, and Jeremiah Dee was appointed as caretaker.  His duties included digging graves, trenching and planting trees.  However, he was dismissed in August 1881 after complaints that his family had destroyed much of the cemetery fence for firewood.  He was not charged as it was argued that “a husband is not guilty for the tortuous acts of his wife”.

The cemetery records confirm the hard conditions of life in an early farming community.  Many children died from diseases such as scarlet fever, typhus and chest complaints and as a result of farm accidents.  The Minute Book tells of numbers of burials following stillbirths, and of infants under six months and mothers following childbirth.  One of the saddest stories was of the burial of a stillborn child of Michael McNamara on 10 March 1880, followed by the burial of his wife two days later.

Many prominent early residents were buried in the Wyndham Public Cemetery including members of the Missen, Beamish and Conron families.  On 19 March 1880, Elliot Armstrong, former owner of the historic Bridge Inn, aged 80, was buried in the Church of England compartment. 

The cemetery is most notable form its large number of Italian graves, which relate to the migration of Italian farming families, especially from Sicily, in the 1920s and later.

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